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Public: Gingrich Should Have Been Replaced As Speaker Of The House

Public: Gingrich Should Have Been Replaced As Speaker Of The House

Attitudes Mostly Unrelated to Knowledge of Ethics Charges Against Gingrich

by David W. Moore


U.S. Representative Newt Gingrich was re-elected Speaker of the House this past week despite the public's view -- including a majority of his own party -- that he should have been replaced as Speaker by another Republican. But this sentiment against Gingrich is mostly unrelated to how much people have heard about the ethics charges against him. Furthermore, his overall approval and favorability ratings are now only slightly lower than in previous polls, suggesting that it is Gingrich's general lack of popularity, rather than the ethical violations, that motivates the public to call for a new Speaker.

A Gallup poll of 1,022 Americans conducted last weekend (before the vote by the House of Representatives) asked whether the Republicans should re-elect Gingrich as Speaker or replace him with another Republican. Only a quarter of those interviewed (23%) say Gingrich should be re-elected, while almost two-thirds (65%) say he should be replaced. The rest are unsure.

Democrats, of course, are most opposed to Gingrich's re-election, by a margin of 78% to 11%. But even Republicans prefer another Republican to Gingrich, by a margin of 51% to 39%.

These views are consistent with Gingrich's overall low popularity with the general public. Most Americans now disapprove (59%) of the job Gingrich is doing as Speaker rather than approve (27%), figures that are only slightly worse than they have been since the partial shutdown of the federal government a year ago, when 58% disapproved and 33% approved. Two years ago, in January, 1995, more people approved (39%) than disapproved (35%) of Gingrich's performance, with a large group who had no opinion (26%). Over the next year, however, his rating declined.

Solid Majority View Gingrich Unfavorably
Apart from how people evaluate Gingrich's performance in office, they also seem to dislike him personally. In the current poll, just 25% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of the Speaker, while 61% have an unfavorable view. These figures are about the same as those in late October among likely voters, when 26% said they felt favorably, and 60% unfavorably, about Gingrich. His highest rating came in January, 1995, shortly after being elected Speaker, when Americans were about evenly divided between a favorable (34%) and unfavorable (37%) view. Over the next year, his unfavorable rating rose by 20 points to 57%, and it has remained that high ever since.

Knowledge About The Speaker's Admission of Ethical Violations Not Influential
How much people have heard about the Speaker's ethical violations has little to do with their views that Gingrich should be replaced. Even if there were no violations or charges, it is likely a majority of the public would still oppose his re-election. The views of Democrats and independents about Gingrich are especially immune to their awareness of the ethics issue.

Only 11% of Democrats, for example, express support for Gingrich's re-election, and this number is virtually the same as those who have heard a great deal (11%), a moderate amount (9%), a little (12%), or nothing at all (12%) about the charges. The same pattern is found among independents, with support for Gingrich showing little relationship to their level of awareness about the ethical violations.

Only among Republicans is knowledge about the charges related to their views about the Speaker: paradoxically, the more they have heard, the more Republicans feel Gingrich should be re-elected rather than replaced. This partisan rallying around the Speaker is a common pattern in partisan conflicts, found most often in general elections.

Among Republicans who have heard a great deal about the charges, more support his re-election (52%) than oppose it (44%). However, among those who have heard only a moderate amount, there is more opposition to Gingrich (56%) than support (41%), and among those who have heard only a little, the figures are even worse (54% opposed, 29% in favor).

Ethical Violations Seen as Typical
Despite their strong opposition to Gingrich's re-election as speaker, Americans feel that Gingrich should not resign from Congress, by a margin of 48% to 41%. In part, this guarded support for his continuing in Congress is related to the public's general cynicism about Washington politicians in general. Strong majorities say the violations admitted to by Gingrich were serious (66%) and were also important indicators of how well he could serve as Speaker (57%), but 75% of all Americans also feel that such violations are typical of the kinds of things most Washington politicians do.

Still, when it comes to a direct comparison between Gingrich and Bill Clinton, people remain more skeptical of the Speaker than the President: by a two-to-one margin (52% to 27%), Americans say Clinton has the higher ethical standards rather than Gingrich.

Survey Methods
The current results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,022 adults, conducted January 3-5, 1997. For results based on a sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.Next week, the Republicans in Congress must decide whether to re-elect Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House or replace him with another Republican. What do you think the Republicans should do: re-elect Gingrich as Speaker of the House, or, replace Gingrich with another Republican as Speaker of the House? (alternatives ROTATED by half-samples)

Gingrich and the Speakership

  Re-elect Replace Neither (vol.)/ No opinion
Total 23% 65 12
Republicans 39% 51 10
Democrats 11% 78 11
Independents* 22% 65 13
*includes "leaners"

Gingrich Job Approval - Trend

  Approve Disapprove No opinion
1997 Jan
27% 59 14
1996 Apr
33% 55 12
1996 Mar
31% 55 14
1996 Feb
35% 55 10
1996 Jan
33% 58 9
1995 Jun
37% 46 17
1995 Apr
37% 47 14
1995 Mar
37% 47 16
1995 Feb
36% 48 16
1995 Feb
38% 48 14
1995 Jan
39% 35 26

Now, I will read off the names of some people in the news. As I read each name, please say whether you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of this person -- or if you have never heard of him or her: Bill Clinton; [Newt Gingrich/Al Gore - ROTATED]

Gingrich Favorability - Trend

  Favorable Unfavorable Never heard of/ No opinion
1997 Jan
25% 61 14
1996 Oct
26% 60 14
1996 Aug
32% 56 12
1996 Mar
24% 58 18
1996 Jan
31% 57 12
1995 Aug
31% 47 22
1995 Apr
37% 51 12
1995 Mar
33% 47 20
1995 Jan
34% 37 29
1994 Dec
27% 35 38
1994 Nov
29% 25 46
1994 Oct
19% 22 59
* registered voters
** likely voters

Do you think that the violations committed by Gingrich are typical -- or not typical -- of the kinds of things most politicians do in Washington?

  Typical Not typical No opinion
Total 75% 14 11
Republicans 77% 12 11
Democrats 72% 19 9
Independents* 77% 11 12
*includes "leaners"

Regardless of which political party you identify with, who do you think has higher ethical standards: [Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich/Newt Gingrich or Bill Clinton?] (ROTATED by half-samples)

Gingrich Job Approval - Trend

  Clinton Gingrich Neither\both (vol.)/ No opinion
Total 52% 27 21
Republicans 31% 56 13
Democrats 78% 7 15
Independents* 46% 22 32
*includes "leaners"

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